The mood in Tennessee’s locker room following Thursday’s NCAA Tournament loss to Purdue was never going to be normal.
Heartache comes with defeat—particularly when it means the end of a chapter. For seniors Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Brad Woodson and Lucas Campbell, it marked the end of a collegiate career.
There’s not an adjective that’s potent enough to describe the elation of winning a Sweet 16 game or the despondence of losing one. Towels covered the dejected expressions worn by the Vols in the locker room.
Head coach Rick Barnes tried to hold back the tears. Then he did something familiar—something routine.
He brought his guys to the middle of the locker room and led the team in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Faith was a backbone of Tennessee’s identity all season.
“There’s not going to be another team like this,” junior guard Jordan Bone said. “The way that we support each other. The way we express our love toward each other. The way we love the Lord together, man. It’s something you can’t break. I’ve never been part of a team this close.”
Alexander, the Vols’ starting big man, knows about faith.
Some would say he took a proverbial leap of faith to even attend Tennessee. The Milton, Ontario, native only received interest from smaller schools, along with UT, before eventually committing to play for Barnes.
“The way it worked out for me personally, it was like I wasn't supposed to be here, but God put me here,” Alexander said. “Just how everything worked out for me to be at the University of Tennessee. God put me here for a reason, and I think I understand that reason.”
Alexander topped off his career by averaging 7.3 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game during his senior season. He doesn’t give himself credit, though.
“The relationships that I've built, the people that I've been able to influence,” Alexander said. “It's just unbelievable. And it's really just truly a blessing. The season was just a blessing. I can't thank God enough and show him enough appreciation for what he's done for me these last four years.”
Tennessee’s furious rally against the Boilermakers, one that resulted in a three-point lead at one point, eventually came up short in overtime.
Yet as Schofield sat in the locker room postgame for the final time, he embraced the ups and downs. The ebs and flows were part of what made his collegiate experience so memorable.
“God has definitely blessed me,” Schofield said. “I can’t be sad, I just gotta be appreciative. I always dreamed of being here, and God gave me everything I asked for and more.”
Back in November, Tennessee’s season was just getting started and the Vols were finding their identity on the court.
However, for a pair of players, one of the biggest moments of their career happened. Alexander and Jordan Bowden were baptized, cementing an identity off the court.
“Me and Kyle grew faithfully (this year),” Bowden said. “We got baptized together. He meant a lot to me.”
As time passes, some might remember the Vols’ loss to Purdue. Others might remember the vibrant personality of Schofield, the humble approach from Alexander or the contagious energy of Campbell and Woodson.
Schofield will remember the connection—one super-glued by faith—he had with his coaches and teammates.
“We’ve been through a lot together. Ups and downs. Lot of highs in the end,” Schofield said. “Each one of these guys made me better as a person and as a player. I’m very appreciative and I’ll never forget them. I’m always here for them and I know they’re always here for me. We have a bond that will last forever.”